In the last year, the Bundesliga — Germany’s professional soccer league — has waged a bullish battle to grow the league’s popularity abroad. Launched in August 2015 — when the league announced a global media rights deal with FOX — the Bundesliga has continued to turn to media endeavors to grow its popularity abroad.
This year, with fans already tuning in to watch matches on televisions across the globe, the league focused on building a strategy that allows fans to fully understand the stories unfolding during those matches. The Bundesliga recognizes that it is these story lines that make its matches the most-attended of any in the world.
Take for instance, the first match of the 2016–17 Bundesliga season, the Bundesliga Supercup. The pre-season match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund played at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park attracted a paid attendance of 81,360 fans. Nearly one-third of those fans paid just over 11 Euro for standing room only tickets in the stadium’s Yellow Wall terrace. There, fans stood throughout the entire match and passionately cheered so loud that their voices triumphantly echoed across the stadium. Not knowing better, seeing and hearing the fans in the Yellow Wall, one would think that Dortmund was competing not in a pre-season match, but for the Bundesliga championship.
The Bundesliga and its individual teams recognize that growing global interest and passion in the league’s brand of soccer requires it to find a way to authentically tell its clubs’ and players’ stories. While its television deal with FOX provided a catalyst for that, the league continues to focus on innovative ways to generate loyalty from fans who cannot physically fill the Yellow Wall on match days.
“For us, it’s important to grow organically and step-by-step. Growing organically means that we invest a little more than others, because we want to be seen as an authentic brand. We want to be seen as Dortmund, with fans abroad understanding the intensity that fans at the stadium feel,” Borussia Dortmund’s director of sales and marketing, Carsten Cramer, said.
With individual clubs focused on how they can capture the greatest share of international markets — for instance, Bayern Munich is the first Bundesliga club with a dedicated United States office — the league itself has adopted technological strategies aimed at growing a league-wide presence and fan base abroad.
These strategies range from adopting the league’s first new logo since 2003, which was designed to optimize digitization. Another tech-based strategy is FOX Sports’ partnership with NextVR this season to internationally broadcast the Bundesliga’s first match using virtual reality. The result gave fans worldwide the ability to witness a Bundesliga match from a perspective many would otherwise never have and allow them to tap into the energy felt in Bundesliga stadiums. In a further media push, earlier this summer, the league launched full Chinese and Spanish versions of its website and revamped its mobile app to include an advanced match predictor feature and detailed fantasy capabilities.
Those tapped into the Bundesliga believe that the league’s storytelling and media centric globalization approaches are the push it needs to become a globally recognized soccer league.
“We have the most spectators in stadiums, the best stadiums, the most goals, very good teams, and high-level, big name international players. We have the power of football. What we didn’t accept until recently, though, was what was going on with new media. New media gives possibilities to make the Bundesliga more attractive. This has changed a lot in the last 20-years. The league must find ways to make or keep the sport interesting,” FIFA World Cup champion and former Bundesliga midfielder, Lothar Matthaus, said.
Time will tell whether the Bundesliga’s bet on a bullish media approach will give the league the global footing it desires. Yet, with its TV deal with FOX reaching a U.S. household distribution of 116 million and growing plans of new media offerings globally, traffic at Bundesliga stadiums and eyes on its matches are both certain to grow.